Color, 2004, 70m.
Directed by Eric Stanze & Robin Garrels
Starring DJ Vivona, Eli DeGeer, Amanda Booth
Sub Rosa/Wicked Pixel (US R1 NTSC) / DD2.0

While many indie horror filmmakers are content to constantly tread the same territory over and over again, that charge certainly can't be leveled at Eric Stanze (Scrapbook) and Robin Garrels (Insaniac). From its peculiar but evocative title to its whiplash editing style, China White Serpentine is only a horror effort by virtue of the fact that it doesn't really fall under any category at all and winds up with a macabre third act. More indebted to the likes of Donald Cammell and Kenneth Anger than the usual suspects, this is head-spinning, experimental filmmaking with a nasty, explicit edge.

The film's nominal identification figure is Dave (Wicked Pixel staple DJ Vivona), who's spiralling into depression after the demise of his drug-addicted brother, Trent (talented newcomer Jason Allen Wolfe). Trying to scrape his life together, Dave is thrown for a loop when the deceased Trent inexplicably turns up on his doorstep with a mysterious DVD that might explain his grisly fate. Then the story proper (prefigured by the orgiastic sex-and-drugs opening credits) begins within the DVD footage as his weeping girlfriend Beth (Eli DeGeer) narrates and flashbacks illustrate her stormy relationship with Trent, which involved massive drug dealing and consumption, graphic sex sessions for Internet broadcast.

With its non-linear plotting and deliberately disorienting visual style, China White Serpentine is definitely not the first Wicked Pixel title to pick up but offers rewards for more seasoned, adventurous viewers. The heavy doses of sex are handled well and relevant to the plot, with the actors fearlessly going places most others would probably rather avoid. DeGeer and Wolfe actually make for an interesting doomed couple for whom the simple act of lighting cigarettes together carries symbolic portent. The last act detour into full-blown horror wraps things up on a nihilistic note but suffers a bit since it doesn't involve the two most interesting people in the movie; the middle third is by far the strongest as the emotional and physical aspects of the film fuse together quite nicely.

Skillfully shot on video, this lives up to Wicked Pixel's previous achievements. Image quality looks sharp and colors are well-rendered, at least when they're not intentionally manipulated or desaturated. The stereo mix offers a trippy soundscape complete with a nice, atmospheric music score (also isolated on a separate track). Also up to their standards are the special features, including two audio commentaries. The first features both directors (who explain how they wound up collaborating rather than going about their own solo projects) along with videographer Jason Christ, while DeGeer and actress Amanda Booth take the helm for the second track to offer their own perspective on their revealing roles (in every sense of the term).

Two lengthy featurettes, "Shooting Up" and "coming Down," feature interviews with all the principals and are professionally staged and shot. Most interesting is Wolfe who explains his own approach to the character and the very delicate nature of shooting some of the film's more extreme scenes. Also included are a trailer and promos for other Sub Rosa titles including the ubiquitous Scrapbook.

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